It’s Eid. Today is the first of three days of celebration following an arduous month of fasting from sunrise to sunset. No food or fluids are ingested between those times.
Muslims love Ramadan. It’s a month of self-discipline, which is difficult. But it’s also traditionally a month when families and friends gather in the evenings around the table to share food. It’s also a month of spirituality, prayers and re-connecting with God.
Muslims love Ramadan, but we’re also happy when Eid arrives and we can get back to our creature comforts and normal daily routines.
During Eid, families get together. Friends stop by for biscuits and tea. Children receive gifts and money in-hand. Fun outings are organized. But before all that is the congregational Eid prayer.
I haven’t been going to mosques for years, with only a few exceptions. When mosques do have a place for women to pray, it’s squeezed into the back, often behind an ugly green curtain, or it’s on a second floor in the mosque. Sometimes you can hear the prayers happening downstairs, always led by the men. Sometimes it’s difficult to hear them. Sometimes there is a glass wall that allows you to see the men’s area downstairs. Sometimes there isn’t. Always I feel like a second-class citizen in a mosque, even though the common narrative is that it’s to make us more comfortable. I feel like I’m just too old to be hidden away in some corner lest I distract Godly men from their prayers; or, as we are often told, so that men do not look at our bums while we prostrate to God in prayer.
There are other reasons why I have avoided mosques for years, but that’s one of the main ones.
Today, missing family and friends and the general Eid vibes one gets by living in a Muslim-majority country, I thought it would be nice to go to the Eid prayer. I knew what to expect. I’d just suck it up in return for being in the midst of other Muslims celebrating. Besides, I love watching happy and excited little children. At the very least, I’d get that.
I did. I could have sat in that cramped upstairs prayer room for hours watching the children, all dressed up in fancy dresses and traditional garb from their parents’ countries of origin. They were all so cute. So happy. So excited. So playful. That was all I needed, really.
We prayed the Eid prayer. Then came the Eid sermon. I’m horrible when it comes to having the ability to focus on what is being said during any sort of lecture. For me, lectures are the worst kind of communication. Words turn into gobbledygook, and go through one ear and out the other. But I caught a few of the words that were said. Ramadan is a month when we hold ourselves back from eating, drinking and sex, he said. Well, he didn’t use the word sex, but he meant it. The word he used was lust. Be good to your parents, was also one of his messages. Treat them well. I couldn’t focus my mind on the sermon much more than that. Women were holding little kids’ hands and passing through the rows of female prayers with their children, handing out sweets. I was more intent on seeing the kids’ eyes light up when it came their turn to take some sweets.
And then it was time to raise our hands, for the imam, who gave the sermon and led the congregational prayer, to make some duas, or supplications. These are words to God along the lines of, “Oh Allah, bless our families.” Or, “Oh God, grant us good in this world and good in the life to come and keep us safe from the torment of the hellfire.” The imam says the supplication and the congregation, hands raised, says amen.
I raised my hands like everyone else and I began mindlessly saying amen after each supplication. I want good things in life. I want good things in the afterlife. Why wouldn’t I say amen?
But then, my mindlessness was snapped into a mindful focus.
What did he just say?
The imam had just made a supplication to God, asking Him to take care of “the enemies of religion”.
Wait. What? Who?
This dua is so common that most people won’t think twice about it. It’s said in mosques around the world on almost any and all occasions. The only reason it snapped me back into focus, I think, is that I hadn’t been to a mosque in quite some time so the words had become just that little bit more alien.
I began thinking: who are these “enemies of religion” that Muslims ask God to take care of all the time? Who do we mean by that exactly? What makes someone an enemy of a whole religion? What are the criteria? Who is in the imam’s head when he’s asking us to say amen to his dua? Who does he think these enemies are? Why doesn’t he give us some details so we can decide for ourselves whether or not we also think these people are enemies of the whole religion before we say amen? Why are we thinking about enemies of religion on the day of our Eid celebrations? And since we’re at it, why aren’t we making any supplications against those who commit acts of terror against innocent civilians in the name of our religion?
All these questions went through my mind in an instance. Then I was snapped back to “the now” by a follow-up to that supplication: something along the lines of “Oh God, allow the flag of Islam to wave high”.
Huh? The flag? It’s a euphemism, of course. But for what? Who is going to plant that flag so that it waves high? What needs to happen for the flag to wave high? Once it’s up there, what happens next? What kind of a world will we be living in in which Islam’s flag waves high?
My mind stopped there. I wasn’t able to follow the rest. I was lost in thought.
These supplications were not at all foreign to my ears. I’ve heard them my whole life. I’ve heard them in mosques all over the world. They are so commonplace that congregants say amen to them without thinking, without pondering what is actually meant by these words. They are so commonplace that I’ll bet even many of the imams who say these duas don’t really think about the possible implications of their words.
I think the implications are huge. When you grow up hearing over and over and over again about the enemies of your religion needing to be taken care of, and the flag of your religion needing to be raised, it becomes part of who you are even if you’re not entirely sure what it all means. But it is often mindless words like these that open the door later on in life for other people to come in and convince you that there actually is something you can do to raise that flag and take care of those “enemies”. The enemies are always out there. If they weren’t, why are we constantly making supplications against them? There is always an “us” and “them”.
We’re so often told that terrorism does not start in the mosques. People are groomed to become terrorists on the Internet. That’s the narrative we’re so often told, isn’t it? I don’t agree with that one bit. There are so many “little” things we hear in mosques, things that are so commonplace we don’t even recognize them, that plant the first seeds of terrorism.
We, as Muslims, need to be so much more mindful of what we say, what we mean, and what might be implied from our words.
I didn’t stay for the English translation of the sermon. Maybe something was said in English after I left, condemning the acts of terror recently committed in the United Kingdom and the ideologies that lead to them. Or maybe the imam felt completely disconnected from those sorts of people and ideologies. Maybe he felt so disconnected that they aren’t on his mind. The enemies of religion were, however. Whoever they are.